“Move, John, Move!”
“Concentrate, Sue, Concentrate!”
These are the suggestions most often repeated by parents to junior tennis players. Perhaps some players understand. However, sometimes it looks as if the juniors conceive of themselves being in a hypnotic state of deep concentration-wiggling all of themselves at once. “Is this what my parents want? Is this what they mean by move? What do they mean concentrate?”
A sympathetic mentor sees that while the parent’s sometimes caustic, and impatient, requests are well founded, the junior player quite possibly might not fully understand these terms as applied to tennis. Let’s examine them more closely.
Movement in tennis is perhaps the real secret to the game. Ultimately, the game boils down to quickness and defense against poor “hit-spots” or contact points. Tennis starts in your head (specifically your eyes and your brain) and moves to your feet and legs really quickly. This is ample justification for conditioning and practice. A trained player’s eyes and brain track the flight of the ball to the perfect “hit-spot.” Anything less yields a lousy stroke. Move means to (1) get your racquet back quickly and properly and (2) get to the ball properly. For all but advanced players, getting to the ball properly means to be set up so that when you “step-hit,” a descending ball will be in the absolutely perfect “hit-spot,” whether forehand or backhand.
A baseliner’s task is to move to defend against poor “hit-spots” much as a basketball player moves defensively, with the core-thought being, “…don’t let the ball get out of the proper contact point.”
If a player (a) winds up with his feet positioned properly at the completion of the shot (b) points his racket at the target properly during contact (c) keeps his wrists firm in the hit zones and (d) concentrates properly, he will probably deliver a good shot.
What then, does concentrate properly mean?
The most often repeated phrase in tennis is “watch the ball.” Yet it is quite possible to watch the ball intensely without either moving or concentrating in tennis terms. To concentrate properly one must not only “watch the ball” but concentrate on a target. While watching the ball and tracking that ball to the perfect hit-spot, the concentrating player is formulating a mind’s eye target of where the ball is to go. This is concentration in tennis: “Watch the ball, where does it go? Where does it go, watch the ball!” There is constant target selection, thus constant concentration. It is much like a golfer putting; he must watch the ball, but intensely concentrate on the cup. Only tennis players move too!
While this seems obvious to parents, juniors may neither understand it, nor understand how it breaks down under pressure or adversity. Perhaps beginners would do well to concentrate on only one target. If nine of ten players are right-handers and the majority of these are weaker on the backhand side, then concentrating on this target alone makes a junior strategically sound up to a surprisingly high level.
If tennis is the “…ability to hit a changing target while moving and under stress,” then moving and concentrating are the core of the game.
Parents – you are right, but you need to explain yourselves!